The Man, the Beast, and the Nature of Desire (Raven’s Ladder, Day 4)

The CSFF Tour for this month is officially over, but before we leave Raven’s Ladder, I want to explore one of its themes. I also have a book to give away, so it’s time for a contest! Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post for contest rules and deadline.

Warning: there are series spoilers contained herein, though they are not too earth-shattering.

Ever since CSFF first toured Auralia’s Colors, reviewers have been confused about whether or not the Keeper and Auralia represent God the Father and Christ in a straightforward allegory. They don’t, as the author pointed out in my interview with him and has said elsewhere.

(Digression: John W. Otte, blogger extraordinaire, addressed this topic on his blog and was kind enough to reply to my questions to him at length today. He points out that while he doesn’t expect or want every Christian book to be an allegory, these characters have so many God- and Christ-like characteristics that it’s misleading. Overstreet says he isn’t writing an allegory, but his series sure smells like one. Point taken!)

But whether or not we’ll see a clear picture of God in the Expanse, we will certainly see a clear and biblical picture of ourselves.

When we first meet Captain Ryllion in Cyndere’s Midnight, he is recovering from an encounter with beastmen that killed his charge and set his career significantly back. But Ryllion is a passionate believer in the value of his own desires and the inevitability of his destiny. Others may waver in their faith; Ryllion doesn’t. He’s a devotee of the moon spirit religion, whose seers teach that everyone has a moon spirit of their own who comes and shines desires into their hearts. Your religious duty, then, is to pursue those desires, believing that your moon spirit will reward your efforts.

Ryllion comes across as young, sometimes aggravating, but really admirable. He believes so sincerely, so wholeheartedly in his dreams. He’s courageous and smart. He’s an underdog fighting his way back up, and we can’t help rooting for him.

At first.

It’s only as time goes on and more backstory is revealed that we start to realize how much integrity Ryllion has already sacrificed in pursuit of his dreams, how much the desires of his heart have torn down any sense of morality or real duty, how much his courage is nothing but — extremely — selfish ambition. Ironically, Ryllion’s pursuit of personal freedom makes him a slave to the Seers, who slip something into his drink to help him along. And before Ryllion even knows it, he’s changing.

He’s becoming a beastman.

On the flip side of the story, we have Jordam. Born a beastman, with a jutting browbone and three brothers who snarl, kill, and hate, his life is also all about desire. He’s hungry, so he kills. He craves Essence, the power-giving poison that created the beastmen, so he steals, plots, hunts, and does obeisance to the Cent Regus chieftain in order to be given it. There is no real difference between Jordam and Ryllion. Both are enslaved to what the Bible calls “the lusts of the flesh.” It’s just that Jordam’s desires are more obviously, outwardly carnal than Ryllion’s.

But while Ryllion is a man becoming a beast, Jordam is a beast becoming a man. It begins when he encounters Auralia’s colors in a cave by Deep Lake and is calmed by them, able to be at peace for the first time in his life. An encounter with Cyndere and more exposure to colors awakens new desires in him, desires that wrestle with his powerful cravings. Desires to protect, to care, to think clearly, to rise above his carnality. Jordam starts to avoid Essence, even though the cravings twist him up inside. And the longer he stays away from it, the more human he becomes. In a brilliant and beautiful portrayal of what it means to be human, he starts to think in metaphors — to see the world artistically, poetically.

Scripture speaks of the war between flesh and Spirit and tells us that “to be carnally minded is death.” Yet we live in a world that promotes self-advancement above all things, that tells us just to follow our desires in order to be happy. If we want something deeply, it has to be right. But we don’t see that our fleshly desires, like Ryllion’s, are nothing more than carnal cravings dressed up in glitz and glamour. In the end, following them will make animals of us. God calls us to a higher way, the way Jordam begins to take — a way of self-denial for the sake of something greater and more beautiful than ourselves.

It’s in denying himself that Jordam becomes a man. But in what is very good news for all of us, the more human Jordam becomes, the more his desires actually start to change. Perhaps someday there will be no more cravings for Essence. No more ambition for evil. No more carnal drives. Perhaps someday Jordam’s desires will be entirely purified — just as, perhaps, someday ours will. And then, as Proverbs says, God will give us the desires of our hearts.

Christianity is sometimes charged with denying humanity, with trying to pull us all into some ascetic club that sucks all the joy out of life. But that’s not the truth at all. Christianity as Jesus lived it calls us not to deny our humanity, but to really become human again, to return to the fellowship with God that once made us so much more than the animals.

I don’t know how Ryllion and Jordam’s stories will end. I’m eagerly awaiting the final book in the series so I can find out. But in the meantime, they’ve given me a vivid way to think about humanity, temptation, sin, and desire. They’ve given me a new way to think about myself.


And now, the contest details :).

As readers, writers need us. We may not realize that, but it’s true. They need us to buy their books so they can keep writing them, and they need us to spread the word about what they write. So here’s how this contest will go:

1. Choose a book you like with an author who is still living. No Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables this time.

2. Write a review of said book and post it to your blog or Facebook or GoodReads or Amazon or wherever (or even all of the above).

3. Post a link to your review in the comments section of THIS POST.

You have until May 6, exactly one week. May 6 also happens to be my birthday, so you can consider your reviews a present for me. I will put your names in a hat and pull one out, and if you win, I will send you a brand-new copy of Raven’s Ladder. If you haven’t read the rest of the series yet, hie thee to the nearest library (or better yet, bookstore — remember, writers need you!) and get cracking. Don’t start with the third book; trust me.

Happy reviewing!



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6 responses to “The Man, the Beast, and the Nature of Desire (Raven’s Ladder, Day 4)”

  1. Elisabeth Avatar

    Wow! There’s so much food for thought in this post. Thank you for sharing – and explaining – some fascinating concepts!

  2. Galadriel Avatar

    Post is here:

    I really would like to win–I can’t find Cal-Raven’s Ladder in my local liberaries or even through interlibrary loan!

  3. […] Otte ? Crista Richey ? ? Chawna Schroeder ? Andrea Schultz ? James Somers ? ? ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson ? Robert Treskillard ? Steve Trower ? ? ? Fred Warren ? ? […]

  4. Phyllis Wheeler Avatar

    Great post, Rachel!!

  5. Rebecca LuElla Miller Avatar

    Great thoughts, Rachel. I think you’ve explained why the world of Auralia is so dark, despite the emphasis of beauty. The story really depicts Mankind, in all our degrees of fallen-ness or redemption. Only when that which is perfect comes will we see and know as we are known—I.E., not here and now. So, too, the world of the Expanse suffers with only glimpses of Beauty and all the rest murky with lies and greed and all manner of Darkness.


  6. Lynn Avatar

    I love stories that give us a new way to think of ourselves, and the world around us. I have attached the link to my review of Blink of an Eye, by Ted Dekker. Thanks for the chance to win!

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